Category: American Studies

” Massive engines lift beautifully from the deck.
Wings appear over the trees, wings with eight hundred rivets. 

Engines burning a thousand gallons of gasoline a minute sweep over the huts with dirt floors.       
The chickens feel the new fear deep in the pits of their beaks.
Buddha with Padma Sambhava. 

Meanwhile, out on the China Sea,
immense gray bodies are floating,
born in Roanoke,
the ocean on both sides expanding, “buoyed on the dense marine.” 

Helicopters flutter overhead. The death-
bee is coming. Super Sabres
like knots of neurotic energy sweep
around and return.
This is Hamilton?s triumph.
This is the advantage of a centralized bank.
B-52s come from Guam. All the teachers
die in flames. The hopes of Tolstoy fall asleep in the ant heap.
Do not ask for mercy. ”


 One of the most important poems to come out of the Vietnam protest movement, “The Teeth Mother Naked at Last” represents Robert BLY’s seamless melding of political and contemplative poetry. Bly took inspiration from the political poems of Latin American poets, including Pablo Neruda and César Vallejo, and from American contemporaries Etheridge KNIGHT, Thomas MCGRATH, James WRIGHT, and David IGNATOW, as well as the earlier American poets Walt Whitman and William Carlos WILLIAMS, all of whom wrote about political crises. In his 1980 essay “Leaping up into Political Poetry,” Bly argues for the power of contemplative poetry to engage with political questions: “The life of the nation can be imagined also not as something deep inside our psyche, but as a psyche larger than the psyche of anyone living, a larger sphere, floating above everyone. In order for the poet to write a true political poem, he has to be able to have such a grasp of his own concerns that he can leave them for awhile, and then leap up into this other psyche” (100–101).

 Bly’s greatest political poem was written in three versions. The first appeared in his collection of the same name (1970), the second in Sleepers Joining Hands (1973), and the third in Selected Poems (1986). In all three versions, Bly is indebted to Spanish SURREALISM, and his own DEEP IMAGE style allows him to employ powerful dreamlike images in his description of political events. In his lament over the death of spirituality and thought, he evokes the strange image of books that do not want to be with us any longer: “New Testaments . . . escaping . . . dressed as women . . . / they slip out after dark.” The images are at times brutally direct. Bly describes an attack on a hut by high explosives: “The six-hour-old infant puts his fists instinctively to his eyes to keep out the light.” The final image of the attack is plain and unflinching: “Blood leaps on the vegetable walls.”

 For Bly, the psyche of America will pay for the atrocities and lies of the Vietnam war. In a surreal passage Bly describes a speech by a lying president. Bly warns that this suggests the decline of the nation and asks, “What is there now to hold us to earth?” Even the political arguments Bly offers take on a surreal uncanniness in their immediacy: Bly’s poem is an angry lament, a prophetic warning about the psychic death that threatens America as it piles horror on horror and turns its wealth and power to the production of death.

Alan Bourassa



Allusions about Criminals

AI Capone

Al (Alphonse) Capone (1899-1947) was notorious for his involvement in organized crime in Chicago in the 1920s. Though it was never possible to find sufficient evidence to convict him of his crimes, he was eventually imprisoned in 1931 for tax evasion. Capone died in prison.

The Greek’s muscles were dough-colored. You wouldn’t have wanted him to take a

headlock on you. That’s the kind of man the Organization hired. The Capone people

were now in charge.

SAUL BELLOW Something to Remember Me By, 1991

‘There’s no shortage of smart operators like Heriot 07 who get what they can from

the city. They cover their arses. If they’re spotted, they pay people off. Or arrange a

good kicking.’ ‘Sounds like Chicago under AI Capone.’

PAUL JOHNSTON Body Politic, 1997

Arthur Daley

Arthur Daley was a character in the ITV series Minder (1979-94), a shady wheeler-dealer always full of schemes to make money quickly, usually involving selling goods of dubious origin. Daley always managed to avoid being arrested, but never actually made any money from his schemes.

Burglars are being encouraged by the public’s Arthur Daley’ mentality to crime and

willingness to turn a blind eye to stolen goods, one of Britain’s most senior police

officers said yesterday.

The Independent, 1994

John Dillinger

John Dillinger (1903-34) was an armed bank robber based in Indiana, named the FBI’s ‘public enemy number one’ in 1933. He was shot dead by FBI agents in Chicago acting on information given by his girlfriend, now popularly known as the ‘Lady in Red’.

‘You always wanted it that way, Jess. You changing your mind?’ ‘No. It’s j u s t . . . ” He

sighed. ‘Spring’. ‘Don’t feel bad. It turns even the best of us to mush! ‘Leave it to

Tark—more Diogenes than Dillinger these days—to understand that!

MEG O’BRIEN Eagles Die Too, 1993


In Charles Dickens’s novel Oliver Twist (1838), Fagin is the leader of the gang of pickpockets into whose hands the runaway Oliver falls.

When I tried to shoo them away one of them knocked my hat off, while another

deftly snatched out of my hand the carrier bag containing my new jacket . . . I did

not care about the jacket . . . but I would have liked to see where those girls would

go. I imagined a lean-to made of rags and bits of galvanised iron on a dusty patch

of waste ground . . . Or perhaps there was a Fagin somewhere waiting for them,

skulking in the shadows in some derelict tenement.

JOHN BANVILLE The Book of Evidence, 1989


‘The Godfather’ is the term used to denote the head of a Mafia family, popularized by Mario Puzo in his novel The Godfather (1968) and by the 1972 film which, together with two sequels, was based on it. The original Godfather, Don Corleone (played by Marlon Brando in the film), is succeeded by his son, Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino). The book and films document  the power struggles and vendettas between Mafia families.


In Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, the fiendish Professor Moriarty is the detective’s greatest enemy, ‘the Napoleon of crime’.

I tried Ralph again. This time he answered on the fourth ring. ‘What’s up, Miss

Marple?’ he asked. ‘I thought you were out after Professor Moriarty until tomorrow!

SARA PARETSKY Indemnity Only, 1982

She no longer paled or trembled at the idea of sudden death. The renowned John

Coss, with all the cool skill, clever thinking and iron fists of detectives in novels,

would get her safely past every Moriarty going. She finished the last of her sandwich

with obvious pleasure.

RICHARD HALEY Thoroughfare of Stones, 1995

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